Ghosts at the Opera House

DSCN3311It didn’t surprise me that the Sterling Opera House in Derby, Connecticut, was haunted. Since opening in 1889, the massive Italianate Victorian theater has hosted many famous guests, including Lionel Barrymore, Harry Houdini, Red Skelton, and Amelia Earhart. It has also functioned as a town hall, with a police substation, complete with six jail cells.

When I was invited to investigate at the opera house with Creepy Places of New England and Rise-up Paranormal, I jumped at the chance. I had the opportunity to tour the building last year when NE POST conducted a paranormal investigation, but I wasn’t able to stay for the investigation due to scheduling conflicts. Getting a second chance seemed like destiny. It was a night I won’t soon forget.DSCN3312

According to Rich DiCarlo, the Chairman of the Derby Cultural Commission, the title “opera house” was a generic term for a theater. “This was a vaudeville and burlesque house more than an opera house. You saw jokes and dancing girls here,” he said during our tour of the building. The theater closed in 1945 and became the town hall until the mid-1960’s. During that time period, there were three confirmed deaths, two heart attacks and a suicide in the jail cell, after a man consumed rat poison, but oddly enough, none of those souls haunt the building.

We started the evening with a full tour of the building. Although the outside of the building was renovated, the interior remains the same as it did when it closed in 1945. The theater seating is still in place, covered in decades of dust. When you stand on the massive stage and look out at the audience seating, compete with two tiers, you feel as though you traveled back in time. Typical of the era, the best seats were on the bottom floor, most of which have been removed. The second tier offered slightly lesser seats, while the third tier seats were only six inches wide. Servants sat at the back of the third tier on folding chairs.

10169174_10203966044250874_8357065243800065571_nThe Lady in White is frequently seen on the second tier balcony, sitting to the right of the second column. No one knows who she was. Although she’s periodically seen, she refuses to provide any clues to her identity. Was she a fan of the theater? Or was she a lovelorn patron, drawn to the building to watch the man she loved perform? No one knows for certain.

Another entity known to haunt the building is the Lady in Green. We know that she was a woman from Brooklyn named Heddy and was in charge of the female troop of dancers. Although she didn’t die in the building, she must have returned after her death, preferring it to a peaceful afterlife somewhere else. According to Rich, she often follows investigators down to the jail cells, warning them to be careful.10292463_10203966044930891_3949798804174449676_n

Andy is another entity who haunts the building. No one knows his story, since there isn’t a documented child’s death in the building or surrounding area, but he has made his presence known to many investigators. He often responds on EVPs, singing and talking. He also enjoys rolling a ball on the stage.

A mysterious stagehand is also seen in the building. No one has recorded his voice on audio, but he’s been witnessed on occasion, wearing an ill-fitting brown suit. As the room grew darker, I snapped a photo of the stage area. After lightening it, one of my eagle-eyed friends commented on the mysterious man in the photo. While there is a real live investigator in the photo, there does appear to be another person there who wasn’t part of the investigation. It’s possible it’s just pareidolia, the human knack for finding faces in random objects, but I’m not ruling it out without further on-site analysis.stage manager

Our group consisted of members from Creepy Places of New England, who also maintain a video blog. Founders, Steven Moreau and Charles Reis, were joined by fellow teammates, Heidi Neuschuez and Cynthia Mattison. Joining us from RiseUp Paranormal was Tara Melendez.

We conducted our first EVP session as a group on the stage. Halfway through the session, I began hearing a tone. Being clairaudient, I hear a sound similar to ear ringing when a ghost is nearby. I followed the sound to the wings of the stage, where I sat down for a moment. The ringing grew louder, as if something was coming closer to me. I just happened to look up in time to see a white mist drift over my head. I was stunned. I’m not the sort of person who often sees ghosts during investigations. In fact, this was only my second time out of more than 200 investigations to see something. I didn’t have time to photograph it before it was gone, but it left a lasting impression.

I moved back to where the group sat. Heidi pulled out her dousing rods, something I’ve always found intriguing. As she asked questions, she began getting very distinct responses. We learned that the Lady in Green was with us, as well as Andy the boy. After a few minutes, we decided to use my SB-7 Spirit Box to see if we could capture any verbal responses.

The Spirit Box scans quickly through the radio stations, allowing the ghosts to use the white noise to generate speech. I don’t post them unless they scan through several channels and are appropriate responses, ruling out stray radio voices. This one scanned through at least four channels. You can click on the links below to hear the recorded responses.

https://soundcloud.com/jonimayhan/arent-people-different

When we asked for their names, this fellow quickly responded:

https://soundcloud.com/jonimayhan/im-michael

Here’s another interesting one:

https://soundcloud.com/jonimayhan/is-that-the-captain

The next one was compelling because the old police station once used the end of the stage as a shooting range. There are bullet holes on the wall. Shortly after we captured this, we heard a siren go past the building, making it even more appropriate.

https://soundcloud.com/jonimayhan/it-was-a-policeman

The last Spirit Box response I’ll share was fairly appropriate, considering where we were. A female voice asked if it was the sixth major. I looked it up online and learned that the sixth major refers to a musical interval. Here’s a link for more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_sixth

https://soundcloud.com/jonimayhan/was-it-sixth-major

We then ventured down a flight of stairs to the area under the stage. The area is divided into two sections: the dressing areas for performers and the old town hall offices. We were drawn to two distinct rooms: the Junkie’s Room and the Casting Office.DSCN3315

The first room we investigated was referred to as the Junkie’s Room by fellow investigators. While the building sat abandoned, derelicts often broke in and used the rooms as shooting galleries. Tara Melendez has investigated at the opera house dozens of times and said that a man was found there passed out from a drug overdose. She felt that he was a twenty-seven year-old male, telling us that her group often gets “crazy responses” in there. The room had a decided heavy feeling.

As we stood there, asking questions, we became aware of a tapping sound. It seemed to correspond with our questions. “Is that you tapping?” one of the investigators asked, and was rewarded with another tap. I asked if he could tap once for “yes” and twice for “no,” and received two taps in response. We decided to continue anyway. I also captured an EVP, which I didn’t realize until later when I reviewed my audio recording.

https://soundcloud.com/jonimayhan/knock-for-usno

The room suddenly seemed to grow even darker as the responses grew clearer. I’ve never experienced tapping responses as clear as these. To hear the two sessions, click the links below:

Part 1: https://soundcloud.com/jonimayhan/knocking-responses

Part 2: https://soundcloud.com/jonimayhan/knocking-part-2

We then headed to the Casting Office. Our first few questions revolved around what happened on the casting couch. We weren’t really expecting an answer. After the heaviness of the Junkie’s Room, we needed to lighten the moment. Apparently, the ghost in residence found our humor amusing. He said “woo” in the middle of a question, something we all heard at the time, making it a disembodied voice.

https://soundcloud.com/jonimayhan/woo

I left shortly afterwards for my two hour drive back home, but the experience will remain with me for a long time. If you’re looking for ghosts, the Sterling Opera House is the place to go. The building is full of them and they are eager to communicate.

 

Joni Mayhan

Joni Mayhan is a paranormal investigator, as well as a free-lance writer. Please check out her paranormal thrillers on Amazon.com and BarnesandNobles.com. For more information about the author, please see her website: Jonimayhan.com

The Soul Collector – The true story of one paranormal investigator’s worst nightmare

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Angels of Ember trilogy – After a devastating virus nearly wipes the world clean of people, 16 year-old Ember Pain grows tired of running and hiding from the bad men who hunt her and her younger sister, Elizabeth. Fighting back becomes a necessity, even if it threatens her very life.

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Secrets from the Grave – The Haunted Victorian Mansion

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The Haunted Victorian Mansion has many secrets.

As I began writing a book for the owners, unanswered questions began piling up, one by one, making me realize there is a lot we still don’t know.  Finding the answers has proven to be very daunting because all of the residents are long deceased, and the historical trail they left behind is filled with gaps.

Here’s what we do know:

After becoming one of the wealthiest men in the county, furniture magnate, S.K. Pierce decided to build a house that matched his stature. He hired two hundred men to work around the clock for a year and a half . When the house was completed in 1875, it was a marvel to behold.

Standing three stories tall, the Second Empire Victorian boasted twenty-six rooms, including four bathrooms, two cisterns for running water, and a tower that provided grand views of South Gardner.

It wasn’t a happily-ever-after kind of story, though. Soon after the house was build, S.K.’s wife Susan died of a very painful bacterial infection that literally ate her flesh. He remarried two years later to Ellen, a woman who was barely older than his son Frank.  S.K. and Ellen had two more sons between them, Stuart and Edward.

By all accounts, the rivalry between the oldest son, Frank, and his step-mother was legendary. After his father’s death in 1888, the house passed down to Ellen, not to the eldest son, which was more customary of the time period.  His brothers Stuart and Edward left the furniture business to invest in car dealerships.

When Ellen died, the house was passed down to her three sons, who squabbled and fought each other in court for many years. The youngest son, Edward, ended up with the house and lived there with his wife, Bessie, and their daughter, Rachel. He turned it into a boarding house.

Tragedy descended upon the Pierce family once more, when 2 year-old Rachel died from Influenza. When Bessie died in 1951, the house fell into quick decline. The boarding house began developing a seedy reputation. There were reports of gambling and prostitution. When Edward allegedly lost the house in a poker game, a man named Jay Stemmerman became the new owner.

Jay was a wealthy man by his own right and would bring another layer of intrigue to the Victorian. After he abandoned the house in the 1980’s, the house sat empty for nearly twenty years. When the next owners purchased it in 2000, some of his odd paintings still graced the walls. Portraits of half-woman/half-beast, as well as full blown orgy scenes were depicted on the canvases. Due to the graphic nature of the paintings, many people wondered what else transpired during that time period.

The current hauntings only make the story more complex.  Having so much of the history at our disposal, we thought we’d be able to identify the ghosts who still linger there. Unfortunately, there are many we can’t identify.

Like, who is the little boy who has been seen in the windows and on the grand staircase? There aren’t any reports of a young boy dying in the house? We’ve asked many times, getting different responses.  Here’s one response we received while doing an EVP session in 2012.

https://soundcloud.com/jonimayhan/sb-little-boys-name-franklin

And who was the full body apparition who appeared at Edwin’s side as he worked in his home office? Was it the ghost of Eino Sauri, the Finnish WWII veteran who died in the house in 1963, some say by self-combustion? Or was it the man who died of a heart attack at the pizza place across the street just before the ghost appeared?

And who is the evil entity in the basement?

Some psychics feel it’s Frank, the eldest son, who battled with his step-mother. Others say it is Edward, the youngest son, who lived in the basement after losing the house. Still others feel it’s a demon, brought in by an investigator with an Ouija Board. What does the house say?

Listen to the EVP by clicking on the link to find out.

https://soundcloud.com/jonimayhan/billiards-room-ghost-box-1

We have asked this question numerous times, getting different responses many of the times. While in the basement, here’s another response we received.

https://soundcloud.com/jonimayhan/name-of-sks-son-im-different

Probably the biggest mystery of all revolves around the tunnel in the basement. Why would S.K. Pierce build a tunnel to his factory across the street? I’ve spoken to two separate people who have confirmed that the foundation of the building across the street has an identical blocked off opening. Although the original factory burnt to the ground in 1938, it was very likely that the new building would have been built on the existing foundation. If there was a tunnel, it has long been collapsed. Only the entrances remain.

What was the tunnel used for?

As I reached out to various people who have investigated there while researching my book, I heard various opinions. While tunnels of this sort were typically used for home heating, capturing the steam from the factory, opinions differ. Almost every psychic feels like it has something to do with children. Several have voiced an opinion that children were often used to work in the furniture factory across the street, which would make sense considering child labor was legal in the late 1800’s.  Another psychic suggested something even worse happened to children in the basement, alluding to physical and sexual abuse. Still another psychic thought that dark magic was practiced in one of the rooms at the factory across the street and that the tunnel was used to spirit them across unseen. Much of this will probably go undiscovered. Even if we were able to track down descents, no one will willingly provide this kind of information if it did indeed happen. The only hope we have is for the ghosts themselves to finally tell us.

One thing is for certain: some of the Victorian ghosts want help.

https://soundcloud.com/jonimayhan/help-me-help-me

And we won’t stop digging until we find the answers.

Joni Mayhan

Joni Mayhan is a paranormal investigator, as well as a free-lance writer. Please check out her paranormal thrillers on Amazon.com and BarnesandNobles.com. For more information about the author, please see her website: Jonimayhan.com

To read more about the Haunted Victorian Mansion, check out Joni’s book Bones in the Basement. Click on the photo below to learn more about Edwin and Lillian’s harrowing experience in the S.K. Pierce Haunted Victorian Mansion.

Bones in the Basement front cover 3

Can Pets See Ghosts?

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The dogs knew the house was haunted long before the owners did. Wendy and Nina, two tiny white Maltese dogs, would stand at the bottom of the grand staircase at the Victorian mansion and growl.

Edwin Gonazalez and Lillian Otero had purchased the gothic looking Second Empire Victorian mansion, also known as the S.K. Pierce House, months earlier and were eager to move into their beautiful home. Reports that it was haunted didn’t bother them, because they weren’t believers. This would change in a matter of months, but the dogs were one of the first indicators.

“They would wake up in the middle of the night, growling at the hallway, absolutely fixated on something I couldn’t see,” Edwin said. He’d open his eyes to scan the dark hallway, afraid of what he might find. On several occasions, he saw a black shadow mass move across the doorway, blocking out the lights in the hallway.

Can our pets actually see ghosts?

Christina Tregger Achilles, co-founder of New England Paranormal Observation Science Technology (NE POST), had a similar experience at the S.K. Pierce House with her dog Sierra, a tiny fawn-colored pug.

“Our friend Ben caught her on camera, reacting to things that were happening upstairs. She would be sleeping soundly, then would wake up and stare at the third floor stairs just before something would bang or bump,” she said after touring the mansion with co-founder, Chris Cox.

“She continues to sense things. I catch her watching something as if she’s watching a tennis match,” she added.

Are they seeing or hearing something we can’t? While there aren’t any hard facts to support the concept that dogs and cats can see ghosts, it has been documented that they do have much keener senses, making one wonder what they are capable of picking up on.

While it’s not proof, their vision is very different from ours. It is geared towards movement to assist them in hunting, also allowing them to see better in low light situations. Cats also have a better grasp on colors at the red end of the spectrum, allowing them to differentiate between blues and violets better than we can.

Also consider the use of full spectrum cameras on paranormal investigations. Researchers using these cameras, which photograph a broader array of the color spectrum than what can be seen with human eyes, often capture strange shapes and anomalies in the photos. Is this what our pets are seeing?

And they can also hear better than we can, lending more truth to the concept.

A dog can detect sounds that are well beyond the spectrum of human hearing. While humans typically hear sounds from 12Hz to 20,000 Hz, a dog can hear nearly four times greater, in the 40Hz to 60,000 Hz range. If you don’t believe this, just blow on a dog whistle or download an app for your smart phone and test it yourself.

When I tried this, I was dismayed to discover that I could only hear up to 12,000 Hz. But when I pressed the button at the 20,000 Hz range, every pet in my house sat up to look at me. Is it possible that spirit communication transpires in a frequency that is either above or below the range we can hear?

It has long been speculated that ghostly phenomena exists at a different plane of existence. Researchers collecting EVP’s (Electronic Voice Phenomena) will often record spirit responses on digital recorders that cannot be heard by human ears at the time they are recorded. A true EVP response will not be heard at the time the question is asked, but will be captured on a digital recorder, suggesting that spirit communication is conducted at a higher or lower range of the audible spectrum, something we as humans cannot hear, but our pets might be able to.

People have been reporting this occurrence for years.  Nick Mantello, co-founder of the Berkshire Paranormal team, is one of the caretakers for The Houghton Mansion. Located in North Adams, Massachusetts, the three-story mansion has been featured on many paranormal shows, such as the SciFi Channel’s Ghost Hunters, as well as the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures. When he visits the mansion for routine visits, he often brings his dog Kronk with him.

Kronk often stares at the corner in the Masonic Temple, a building that is still used by Freemasons of the Layfayete-Greylock Lodge. Kronk often stares and then barks in areas of the mansion where paranormal activity has been captured. One of his least favorite areas is a corner of the Lodge in the Masonic Temple.

“I’ve told people this story about the corner of the Lodge. The dog just don’t like it,” he said. He captured Kronk’s reaction on the video link below.

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151817479741042

The stories are endless. Sandra Chase, an avid paranormal enthusiast had an experience she recently shared with me. Her husband passed away in 2007. He was fond of playing computer games and would often pet their dog while he was playing.

“About three months after he passed, the dogs and I were in the living room. Rags was sleeping on the rug. All of a sudden, she got up and went over to the computer chair, put her head under the arm, and started wagging her tail,” she said.

Is this proof of paranormal activity?

Unfortunately it’s not, but it’s something pet owners will continue to pay attention to. Until dogs and cats are able to tell us what they’re seeing, we’ll always be left guessing. Some of us don’t need proof to understand what is happening.

“They just know,” Lillian Ortero said.

I have a tendency to agree with her.

Joni Mayhan is a paranormal investigator and the author of The Soul Collector, which is an account of her most terrifying paranormal experience.  Find this book and her others on Amazon.com